13 Essential Horror Influenced Music Videos
Article By: Sean Abley
Although horror films have existed since the inception of film, and what we now call music videos have existed in some form almost as long as films with synchronized sound, horror-inspired music videos are a fairly recent phenomena. As music and the consumer base’s tastes evolved, more and more graphic imagery found its way into what MTV used to play 24/7, especially in the hardcore punk and thrash/death/speed/black/doom/power metal genres. Here are thirteen horror-inspired music videos we think are an essential cross section of the genre.
1. "Michael Jackson’s Thriller” performed by Michael Jackson, directed by John Landis (1983)
Any list of essential videos should include “Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” (the official title of the music video). Previous music videos had used visual narrative to tell the story of the song, but “Thriller” would instantly become the gold standard for what could be accomplished in that long gone era when record labels actually spent money on music videos. The song was an instant earworm, the dance moves were fresh yet easy to recreate with your friends, and Jackson and costar Ola Ray had genuine chemistry. The behind-the-scenes footage presented by MTV with the video not only humanized the King of Pop into the horror nerd he was, but presented Jackson and director John Landis as true collaborators. While some videos once considered groundbreaking have fallen into the pop culture pundit ironic reference canon, “Michael Jackson’s Thriller” is, and will always be, timeless.
2. “Gidget Goes to Hell” performed by the Suburban Lawns, directed by Jonathan Demme (1979)
This post-punk take on beach movies might have languished in obscurity had it not aired on Saturday Night Live, which at the time was still in the business of booking obscure or difficult bands like Sun Ra, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, and a little new wave combo called Devo. Demme directed the video while he was in the thick of his work with Roger Corman, and special makeup effects legend Rob Bottin is credited at the end (presumably for Gidget’s severed hand that washes up on the beach after she’s eaten by a shark.)
3. “Come to Daddy” performed by Aphex Twin, directed by Chris Cunningham (1997)
Two years before Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) and Chris Cunningham put James’ face on voluptuous video vixens in “Windowlicker,” (which you should totally watch) they inflicted his mug on a gang of evil children terrorizing a London slum. Sort of a Videodrome meets Poltergeist meets Assault on Precinct 13, “Come to Daddy” was ranked #1 on Pitchfork's Top 50 Music Videos of 1997.
4. “Sheena is a Parasite” performed by The Horrors, directed by Chris Cunningham (2006)
See video here. (WARNING: Strobe-heavy video)
Yes, that’s Academy Award nominee Samantha Morton as the titular Sheena. Simple, yet creepily effective.
5. “Happiness in Slavery” performed by Nine Inch Nails, directed by Jon Reiss (1992)
See video here. (Warning: Video is NSFW for nudity and naked torture and gore)
Of the many choices in the Nine Inch Nails video catalogue making use of horrific imagery, “Happiness in Slavery” is possibly the most horrific, with the bonus of having a bit of plot in the mix. (A bit. Not a lot. But enough.) For that reason, we’ve chosen it for our list over the others, which are more montages of depravity than good storytelling. Performance artist Bob Flanagan (the subject of the excellent documentary, Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist) plays the lead in this Godfather of Torture Porn, a man who willing submits himself to a machine that methodically violates him, eviscerates him, and eventually grinds him to mulch.
6. "Through Being Cool" performed by Devo, uncredited director (1981)
Devo’s music videos are crammed with funcomfortable imagery, but “Through Being Cool” plays out like an early 80s version of Them or Eden Lake. Happy teens suit up in their Devo-tee outfits then jog around town disintegrating people with their ray guns. It’s all jovial and camp, but creepy as hell (like most of Devo’s videos.)
7. “Repentless” “You Against You” and “Pride In Prejudice” (Repentless Trilogy) performed by Slayer, directed by BJ McDonnell (2016)
We’re listing these videos as one because they’re three parts of the same blood-filled story; Jason Trost (Hatchet III) plays a one-eyed anti-hero thrust into prison nightmare. Produced by Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp’s “Angela” is all grown up and producing horror flicks) and directed BJ McDonnell (also Hatchet III), the trilogy boasts a cast of horror faves including Derek Mears (Friday The 13th remake), Tyler Mane (Halloween remake), Danny Trejo (Machete), Tony Moran (Halloween's Michael Myers, original flavor), Sean Whalen (Men In Black, Halloween II), Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2,) Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses) and Caroline Williams (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2).
8. “Anyway I Gotta Swing It” performed by Whodini, uncredited director (1989)
The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise served up several musical tie-ins, but for my money, Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child offered us the best. Why? Dancing Freddy Kruegers.
9. “Dream Warriors” performed by Dokken, directed by Chuck Russell (original film footage) (1987)
“With the dream warriors! Don’t wanna dream no more…” Is there any Nightmare on Elm Street fan who doesn’t know the first two lines of the chorus of this song? Is there any Nightmare on Elm Street fan who knows any other lyrics to this song? No? No worries. What’s important is that Dokken defeats Freddy Krueger with glam rock and backcombed man ‘dos.
10. “Chick-A-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love It)” performed by the Rolling Headstones aka Groovie Goolies (1970)
A spinoff of The Sabrina the Teenage Witch Show, Groovie Goolies continued the musical comedy variety format of its parent show and The Archie Show, all produced on the cheap by Filmation. “Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)” was the one song from Groovie Goolies’ single solo season to break out, rerecorded as a novelty hit for Goolies’ producer/singer Dick Monda (aka Daddy Dewdrop). All vocalists listed on the songs (Monda, Bob Markland, Chris Sciarrotta, Dave Mani, and Ed Fournier) are credited as “Backing Vocals,” perhaps to keep the illusion that the Groovie Goolies were an actual, living, breathing group of monsters with a record deal?
11. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, directed by Jeff Stein (1985)
Written by Tom Petty and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics (who also plays the caterpillar at the beginning), this musical acid trip takes all the weird stuff about Alice in Wonderland and cranks up the creepy. In the end, it’s all about that cake…
12. “Crack in the Egg” performed by GWAR (1992)
Let’s talk about GWAR. There are a lot of metal bands out there, and we could have included dozens more metalcore videos of dystopian futures filled with torture machines and amps turned up to eleven. GWAR does all that, but what they offer the other pretenders to the throne do not is a large dose of humor. (Admittedly very, very black humor.) “Crack in the Egg” is a fairly decent representation of GWAR’s video prowess (super DIY), but their live shows are where it’s at. If you’re offended by death, murder, gore, sex, sex with toys, sex with monsters, sex with animals, sex with dead people, sex with live people who end up dead, or celebrity impressions, DO NOT GO TO A GWAR CONCERT. Based in the epicenter of the hardcore punk/metal scene (Richmond, VA), GWAR continues to tour 30+ years after their formation despite the death of several members of the group, including original lead singer Oderus Urungus, aka Dave Brockie.
13. "Living Dead Girl” performed by Rob Zombie, directed by Joseph Kahn and Rob Zombie (1999)
You have to hand it to Zombie, he’s nothing if not a student of the genre. Although his films tend to fall flat (at least with this writer), his music and music videos are almost always top notch. This The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary homage is pitch perfect, and the song is pretty much a monster jam as well.
Sean Abley is a screenwriter, playwright and journalist. His new novelization of Night of the Living Dead is available from Amazon.